I’m enjoying a vacation from work (sometimes I really love the academic calendar) and like any good Tolkienite, I’m marathoning the films once more before I go back to work on Monday. This time, as I work my way back through Middle-earth in the books and on screen, I am noticing things I never noticed before. Perhaps I should blame my graduate-level education for being unable to enjoy a book for its own sake any more, but the intricacies enrich the world and make the story so much richer for me.

Throughout my re-reading of The Lord of the Rings, it is repeatedly seen that Frodo, and other Fellowship members, have thoughts in their heads that are not their own–a narrative tactic that I wish I could duplicate in my own work. Oftentimes these characters will make exclamations in languages in which they are not fluent, usually Elvish, and have visions of things that may or may not have already happened. These foreign thoughts can be good or evil, and are influential in the actions of the main characters (particularly the hobbits), especially Frodo in his dealings with the One Ring. I mention Frodo specifically, because of the burden of his Quest. Any influences on the hobbit could make or break Middle-earth.  Could Frodo be hallucinating and delirious under the effects of the Ring, or is there a Higher Power playing in the turn of events in Middle-earth?

source: councilofelrond.com
source: councilofelrond.com

Sometimes, I like to answer my own questions, and so I took a look at the origins of Middle-earth (my obsession has led me to have my own Tolkien library). If you’ve never read The Silmarillion (and I think that everyone should), Middle-earth was created by Eru, or Ilúvatar with the help of the song of the Ainur, but after the creation of Eä, or the world, the Creator is conspicuously silent and absent from the cycle of events that unfold in his creation. He places select Ainur in the role of the Valar (think of them as deific beings who watch over Middle-earth, like the Norse gods and goddesses); they are the protectors of Eru’s creation. In The Silmarillion,  the reader repeatedly sees the intervention of the Valar in the course of the history of Tolkien’s secondary world, particularly in the battles against Melkor, AKA Morgoth (the first Dark Lord, and Sauron’s master). The Valar actively go to battle with Melkor, restrain him for three ages, and then later cast him out into the Void.

I was a peculiar child. Every Christmas season, instead of begging my parents for new dolls, princess tiaras, or a pony, I’d always write down “books” at the top of my Christmas list. To my eternal disappointment, every year my mother gave me stuff I needed: a new coat or shoes, a new dress for church, or the ever-dreaded socks. My mother doesn’t read for pleasure and never understood my fascination with words. “They’re not real,” she’d tell me when I told her about Captain Ahab’s white whale or Beth’s death in Little Women, “Why do you care so much?”

Twenty years later, that question still haunts me. Why do I care so much? Why do I cry for fictional characters? Why invest myself so much in a world that’s not real?

I blame my father.

I was seven-years-old the first time I read The Hobbit. Although my mother was unwilling to indulge my obsession for fiction, my father did. I had tossed aside The Chronicles of Narnia and The Little House on the Prairie series. I read things like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Three Musketeers, but at the age of 7 I didn’t understand them, nor did I want to. One Christmas, my father handed me a crudely wrapped present. “Don’t tell your mother,” he whispered.

Katniss is already a hero in District 12.
Katniss is already a hero in District 12.

Grrl Power

According to Lee Edwards in his book, Psyche as Hero (1984) “By the beginning of the twentieth century, novelists seem readier to abandon the project of entrapping the female heroic character and begin the task of inventing maneuvers whereby she can break out of familial, sexual, and social bondage into an altered and appropriate world” (16). Suzanne Collins’ “Girl on Fire” is a heroic alternative to limited female archetypes bound inextricably to traditionally assigned gender roles. Katniss is not tied to a matriarchal role, in fact, she cannot and will not bare children until social change is achieved in Panem. Readers encounter a love triangle of sorts, yet it is not central to the action. Katniss cannot settle into any role comfortably until she achieves social and spiritual growth and her journey is over. On her quest, the female hero must risk violating social norms regarding gender roles to fully realize her heroic qualities. Katniss must “incorporate change into [her] private life [and then] move with confidence into a newly constituted world” (Edwards 16).

frankenstein 1

 It is a story we have heard before: a mad scientist dallies with the supernatural and creates something he cannot control. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is the prototypical example of this story. It is the story of a man obsessed with creating “life;” Victor Frankenstein literally creates life from the dead.

As he creates his progeny, Victor Frankenstein isolates himself. This isolated environment—or as I like to call it, “the artificial womb”—produces a being without the aid of a woman and reflect the lack of empathy in Victor Frankenstein as he attempts to have absolute control over this new life. It is this lack of empathy, mirrored by the isolation that the creative environment exhibits, that ultimately dooms Frankenstein’s experiment. Because of the unnatural procreation process, the lack of maternal (or paternal) bond, Victor Frankenstein cannot empathize with his creations, resulting in the rejection of his “child” and the subsequent attempts to kill his creation.

Johnny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster in Danny Boyle's stage adaptation of Frankenstein.
Johnny Lee Miller as Victor Frankenstein and Benedict Cumberbatch as the monster in Danny Boyle’s stage adaptation of Frankenstein.

With the act of creation, Victor Frankenstein takes both the male and female roles in the reproductive cycle, and by doing so, places himself as both god and parent. The procreation is unnatural, however. Frankenstein stitches together his child of intellect and abnormal science out of pieces of corpses. In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein challenges nature, seizes deific roles, and ultimately dooms himself by his egocentric thoughts and actions. The male creator raises questions of gender, questions of spirituality, and ultimately the question of whether man can be more powerful than nature. As an audience intrigued by god complexes and experiments-gone-wrong, we are drawn to the possibilities of such creations, but horrified by the realities.